The second half of 1969’s iteration of DC Comics’ annual summer event teaming the Justice League of America with their Golden Age predecessors, the Justice Society of America, sported a cover that was — for this particular twelve-year-old’s money — considerably more exciting than the previous issue‘s. That cover had featured a row of JSAers looking on passively while some nameless kid ripped up a lamppost; this one, pencilled and inked by Neal Adams, heralded the first meeting between the Superman of Earth-One (the one currently appearing in multiple DC titles every month) and the Superman of Earth-Two (the one who’d ushered in the whole Golden Age of Comics in the first place in 1938’s Action Comics #1) — and from the looks of things, it was going to be a, shall we say, rather contentious meeting. That I would buy this comic book was never in question; but I have a hard time imagining anyone who was even a casual reader of DC superhero comics seeing this book in the spinner rack in July, 1969, and not picking it up.
The comic’s first two pages offered a useful recap of the first half of the story by Denny O’Neil (writer), Dick Dillin (penciller), and Sid Greene (inkder) for anyone who might have come in late:
I’m fairly certain that the first panel of page 2, shown above, was the first time I’d ever seen Doctor Fate (aka Kent Nelson) without his face being completely covered by his helmet. (DC’s writers would eventually establish that Nelson “became” Fate — i.e., was possessed by an immortal spirit named Nabu — whenever he donned the helmet; but that revelation was still several years in the future when this story was published.)
“…we’re approaching the entrance to the universe of negative matter…” I don’t think that this particular aspect of traveling between the universes of Earths One and Two had been documented in any previous story (though the “anti-matter universe” referenced in JLA #46–47 could be construed as being the same phenomenon). Gee, I wonder if it’ll turn out to be somehow significant in this story. Guess we’ll find out soon enough…
We’re only on page 4, but we’ve already reached the moment for the historic encounter promised by Neal Adams’ cover — the first face-to-face meeting between the greatest superheroes of two worlds:
The battle between the two Supermen has, perhaps, a less epic tone than comics readers of later eras might expect. Not that O’Neil, Dillin, and Greene skimp in any way on the slugfest aspect, but it’s hard to imagine a modern comics version of this scene that would leave room for a humorous aside such as Earth-One Supes’ silent crack about not liking himself anymore.
And something else that might be surprising to fans of a later vintage — the two Men of Steel seem to be virtually identical, in every respect. Beginning in the late Seventies, DC’s artists and writers would be at some pains to distinguish the elder Clark Kent (or “Kal-L”) from his younger counterpart (“Kal-El”), both in terms of power levels (Earth-Two’s Kal was generally shown to be not quite as strong or invulnerable as Earth-One’s, reflecting how DC had steadily increased their number one hero’s might over the course of decades; this distinction wasn’t followed consistently, however), and visually. As an example, the Wally Wood-drawn Superman shown at right is easy to imagine as what Joe Shuster’s 1938 creation might look like after a few decades had gone by (and not just because of the gray in his temples).
In 1969, however, DC was still mostly playing down the indisputable age gap between their original super-team and their succeeding gang of heavy hitters. Yes, when the Earth-Two Flash, Jay Garrick, made his return in 1961’s “Flash of Two Worlds”, he’d clearly aged since his last appearance ten years prior — after all, he had gray temples! And it’s also true that when Jay’s fellow JSA members began turning up again as well, they were all said to have gone into retirement some years previously. (Later stories would explain that they had actually been driven into retirement by the U.S. government, implying that their leaving the superhero life behind had really had nothing to do with them all getting on in years — but there was no hint of that notion in the JSA’s 1960s appearances.) After that, however, with a couple of exceptions — a young adult Robin replacing Batman as an active Justice Society member in JLA #55, a middle-aged Wildcat coping with the encroachment of time upon his (non-super) strength, speed, and stamina in Spectre #3 — the age differential between the two groups was largely ignored. Indeed, a new reader could have been forgiven for picking up JLA #74 and not even realizing that the JSA heroes should be, on average, nearly twenty years older than their comrades in the JLA.
Of course, ignoring the age difference made it easier to sidestep questions of the Justice Leaguers’ comparative youth and (presumably) greater vigor giving them an advantage over their counterparts in such match-ups as the one now getting underway in our present tale:
The first bout that we get to watch, following that between the two Supermen, is a one-on-one between Batman and Dr. Mid-Nite. Oddly, although Dillin and Greene show the Atom perched on the Caped Crusader’s shoulder on page 6’s half-page splash, the Tiny Titan is outta there by the very next panel, as shown below:
The pairing of Batman and Dr. Mid-Nite is interesting for several reasons. Denny O’Neil seems to have considered them comparable characters; as Batman himself notes, “I’ve always thought he and I almost evenly matched! We have identical skills, traits…” — and one year later, in O’Neil’s second JLA-JSA team-up adventure, the writer would go so far as to call Batman “Dr. Mid-Nite’s closest Earth-One equivalent” (JLA #82 [Aug., 1970], p. 13). And, as portrayed in this story, the two heroes do seem to have a lot in common — after all, they’re both highly skilled costumed crimefighters with no actual super-powers who prefer to operate in darkness. The thing is, with the notable exception of what Neal Adams and company were doing over in Brave and the Bold, “darkness” didn’t figure that much into the milieu of most Batman stories at this time (though that would soon be changing, with a prominent assist from O’Neil himself). As for Dr. Mid-Nite, his modus operandi in the 1940s had indeed involved him using his “blackout bomb” to enshroud his foes in an artificial night, as O’Neil might well have remembered from his own childhood comic-book reading. But, prior to June, 1969, all that I knew about Dr. Mid-Nite was what I’d seen in JLA #46 and #47, where he’d eschewed the use of his “old-fashioned” blackout bomb in favor of a weapon he called a “cyrotuber”, which was somehow able to both alter the human nervous system and emit hot or cold energy blasts, and which he carried in a “medical satchel” because, y’know, he’s a doctor. Seriously, just having that Gardner Fox-scripted two-parter to go by, I hadn’t even realized Doc Mid-Nite was blind.* But Denny O’Neil remembered; and what was more, he wasn’t having any of this newfangled cyrotuber business; perhaps he wasn’t even aware of its existence. (Editor Julius Schwartz, on the other hand, would likely have remembered, but probably didn’t think it was a big deal.)
Next, we find out where Atom went when he skipped out on Batman; it looks like he’s helping out the Flash against Doctor Fate, so all’s swell, I guess:
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s JLA 3, JSA 0…
…with the Battle of the Supermen turning out to be a wash, due to the two Kryptonians tuckering themselves out so much they both need a bit of a nap; a resolution that seems rather improbable, and which, like the earlier Kal vs. Kal sequence, is played somewhat for humor (probably incongruously so, at least to some modern sensibilities). Still, there are a couple of matches yet to be resolved:
This story obviously takes place before Brave and the Bold #85 (published the previous month), in which Green Arrow sports his new Neal Adams-designed costume (and beard) for the first time. And without getting too far ahead of ourselves here, we should pause to note the significance of O’Neil pitting the Emerald Archer against Black Canary in this scene — considering the developments the writer had in store for these two characters, beginning as early as JLA‘s next issue.
It’s fair, I believe, to call Larry Lance’s act of ultimate sacrifice — and its aftermath — one of the most effective death scenes in Silver Age superhero comics. With this sequence, as with the similarly dramatic “death of Mars” scenes that concluded Justice League of America #71, Denny O’Neil proved himself able to depict real and relatable human tragedy in his writing, even in the context of fantastical costumed adventurers.
From my present-day, adult perspective, it seems odd that the JLA and JSA rush to inter Larry’s remains so quickly; and their doing so raises some uncomfortable questions. (Is the land adjacent to Ted Knight’s observatory actually zoned for human burial? Do the heroes use their super-powers to expedite the embalming process, or do they just skip it entirely?) But in July, 1969, my twelve-year-old self found this a moving scene; and my sixty-two-year-old self is thus inclined to let O’Neil and company slide on it.
A couple of brief notes regarding Superman’s officiating at the funeral: There’s no indication which of the two identical Men of Steel it’s supposed to be, but in 1969, there was never any question in my mind that it had to be the Earth-Two Supes. And while I’m sure that myyounger (and earnestly Christian) self wasn’t the least bit fazed (and was perhaps even slightly gratified) to see Superman holding an open Bible while paraphrasing the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, verse 46, my older self has apparently gotten so used to seeing Kal exclaim “Great Rao!” over the last few decades that, in re-reading this page in 2019, it’s mildly startling to see him do so.
Remember that “entrance to the universe of negative matter” from pages 2 and 3? I’d say it’s about time for its close-up, Mr. DeMille:
It’s pretty clear in the story that the two Green Lanterns have intentionally lured Aquarius, a sentient, living entity, into a death trap; Alan Scott’s line on page 21 about “Aquarius’ extinction” doesn’t allow for any wiggle room for readers to imagine that our emerald crusaders really just wanted to get rid of the menace, but not necessarily in a fatal fashion. In other words, they killed him.
I bring this up not because I want to argue about whether or not our heroes could or should have managed this specific situation differently, or even the broader question of whether superheroes should ever be portrayed as killing their enemies in comic-book stories; that latter topic, especially, calls for a much longer discussion than I’m prepared to get into in this particular post. No, I’m bringing it up because, in re-reading this story today, and trying to recall what my reactions were when I read it the first time, I’m pretty sure that in July, 1969 my twelve-year-old self didn’t actually read the preceding scene as, “two superheroes just killed a person”.
Assuming that’s correct, I’m not sure if that original reading (or misreading) was due simply to the younger me being extremely literal-minded — Aquarius is a star, a star is a big ball of plasma, you can’t kill a big ball of plasma — or if, rather, I was taking my cue from O’Neil’s script, which didn’t frame the situation as presenting any kind of ethical dilemma for Alan and Hal (as a comparable situation involving a human criminal almost certainly would have been framed). I’m reminded of the scene in Incredible Hulk #118 (which I blogged about here back in May) where Mistress Fara perishes as a direct result of the destruction carelessly wrought by the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner during their battle, but the story evades placing any culpability for her demise upon the two “heroes”. Back in the day, my younger self didn’t read that scene as “heroes killing people”, either; which makes me wonder if the truism often expressed by comic-book fans of my generation — Superheroes didn’t kill people back in the Good Old Days! — is, to some extent, based on somewhat selective memory on our parts. Maybe we remember things that way now at least partly because, back then, we saw only what we — or the comics’ creators — wanted us to see. It’s something to think about, at least.
However we choose to frame the deed the two Green Lanterns have just perpetrated, though, that deed is now done. The menace is averted, the multiverse is saved, and the story is over. Well, almost over…
The last-page decision of Black Canary to relocate to Earth-One definitely came out of left field for me as a reader in 1969. I’m not sure whether I immediately assumed that she would concurrently join the Justice League, though in hindsight that of course seems obvious. After all, O’Neil had recently, and quite dramatically, written Wonder Woman out of Justice League of America, so that the team had at present had no female representation whatsoever. In some ways, however, Dinah Drake Lance was an odd choice to replace Diana Prince — the main one being that she wasn’t any more super-powered than the recently “de-Amazoned” Amazon Princess was. That would of course change as soon as the next issue, in which the Canary would discover that — perhaps due to being exposed to Aquarius’ magical energies — she’d suddenly acquired a super-power, a sonic scream that was quickly dubbed her “canary cry”. Soon thereafter, she’d begin a romantic relationship with Green Arrow, whose overall makeover (begun by Neal Adams in Brave and the Bold #85,as we noted earlier) was completed by Denny O’Neil in the same issue of JLA, #75, in which Dinah got powered up. Before very long, the Black Canary was being portrayed — not only in Justice League of America, but also in Green Lantern, Brave and the Bold, and other DC titles — in such a way that a new reader might not even realize that she’d ever been a member of the Justice Society of America — a team whose heyday had been in the 1940s.
But, of course, the creators at DC knew it, as did more seasoned fans; and as the years went by, that became more and more of a problem.
I made a reference earlier to the idea of the JSA heroes being, on average, nearly twenty years older than their JLA comrades — but, of course, “on average” doesn’t mean they’re all two decades closer to the grave. Black Canary didn’t actually debut until the post-WWII area, in 1947 — almost ten years after the introduction of Superman in 1938’s Action Comics #1. And then there’s the fact that Green Arrow, like a handful of other DC heroes (Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman) had been published continuously since their respective debuts, right through the end of the Golden Age and into the Silver. Unlike the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, and Hawkman, G.A. didn’t have a definite Earth-One “start date”. He could well be five or more years older than most of his JLA buddies, if DC had wanted to play it that way; an idea that would have been even easier to sell once he started wearing his signature-to-be goatee.
In other words, the age difference between Black Canary and Green Arrow — and, by extension, between the Canary and the rest of the Leaguers — didn’t have to be a big deal. Except that she was unquestionably a peer of such JSAers as Dr. Mid-Nite, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman — and those heroes had been around since before America’s entrance into World War II. That was clearly established, and not just by the Forties-published comic books themselves; ultimately, DC made the War a major factor in the Justice Society’s coming together in the first place in its modern continuity, per the landmark 29th issue of DC Special (Aug.-Sept., 1977), featuring the never-before-told origin of the JSA.
Speaking as a fan who eagerly gobbled up this double-sized extravaganza by writer Paul Levitz and artist Joe Staton when it came out (and who still has tremendous affection for it), I can say with some assurance that this seemed like a good idea at the time. Inasmuch as we all — comics pros and fans alike — already knew that the JSA had started up in wartime, this wasn’t any kind of stretch. And hey, who wouldn’t want to see the Golden Age Superman smash through a Nazi bomber?
In hindsight, however, it’s clear that this story represents a moment in which DC crossed a fateful line in regards to their Earth-Two heroes’ backstory. The fact of the matter is that, regardless of their wartime setting, the Justice Society had done very little waging of that war in their 1940s adventures. Oh, sure, they’d dealt with Nazi saboteurs and other agents of the Axis powers, but almost always on the home front — and most of those stories could have been updated to a postwar setting with relatively minor retconning. This puts the JSA in a different category than, say, Marvel Comics’ Captain America or Sub-Mariner, who notably fought the Axis overseas (or, in Subby’s case, on the seas) on a frequent basis. If DC hadn’t decided to embrace the World War II setting as an essential piece of the Justice Society’s history, it’s possible that it would have eventually gone the way of Fantastic Four members Reed Richards and Ben Grimm’s WWII military service at Marvel, or the same publisher’s Iron Man’s Vietnam War-based origin story — becoming a “topical reference” that automatically gets pushed forwards in time (and consequently altered in its details) to keep the comic-book universe’s logic from breaking down as the years mount up and the characters don’t age.
One story, however important, might have eventually been swept under the rug; but the JSAs ties to “the Big One” became even more deeply inscribed into canon in 1981, with the debut of a new, ongoing title, All-Star Squadron. In this series, created and written by Roy Thomas, the World War II setting was so important that one could actually call it the title’s main point. Thomas and his artistic collaborators created a whole new super-team — the Squadron of the title — formed at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself, whose whole purpose was to fight sabotage and otherwise bolster the home front for the duration of the war. This team’s members were cherry-picked not only from the Justice Society, but also from the rest of DC’s stable of Forties-active characters (e.g., Robotman and Johnny Quick) and from those originally published by Quality Comics (e.g., Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady). Thomas and company then spun new tales of these characters, which were then interwoven with old stories originally published in All-Star Comics and elsewhere, as well as with real-world historical events of the time period — resulting in a highly complex alternate-history narrative.
Needless to say, whether or not the Black Canary herself would ever show up in All-Star Squadron, the notion that the character then appearing in Justice League of America was supposed to be a close contemporary of this Greatest Generation of heroes, living in a world remembered only by the current readership’s parents (or even grandparents), seemed completely untenable by 1983. Something had to be done; and something was.
That “something” was revealed to the world via that year’s edition of the annual JLA-JSA team-up event, appearing in Justice League of America #219 and #220. The script for the first half of the story was credited to Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway; the second, to Roy Thomas “with special thanks to Marv Wolfman for suggesting the idea”. Chuck Patton pencilled both chapters.
This frankly overstuffed epic involved a group of supervillains, the Crime Champions, teaming up with the evil Johnny Thunder of Earth-One to suborn the “good” (Earth-Two) Johnny’s Thunderbolt and use him in a nefarious scheme. Along the way, Black Canary is captured by the Thunderbolt and taken to his native dimension, where she is shown a glass coffin containing the deceased bodies of Larry Lance and… Black Canary?
As Dinah (and readers) would soon learn, courtesy of the Thunderbolt, some twenty years previous she and Larry had been blessed by the arrival of a baby girl. But their infant daughter — named Dinah, after her mom — was soon thereafter cursed by the villainous Wizard so that every time she opened her mouth to make a sound, she’d utter a super-destructive sonic scream. Dinah and Larry called on Johnny Thunder and his magical friend for help; unfortunately, the Thunderbolt couldn’t undo the Wizard’s spell. All he could do, in fact, was to take the child to his own dimension…
…and then, on his own initiative, make Dinah, Larry, and Johnny all believe that baby Dinah had died. Wow.
The rest of the story isn’t revealed until the end of issue #220, after the Earth-One Johnny and the Crime Champions have been defeated. The Earth-One Superman picks up the tale begun by the T-bolt — at a point which, it turns out, falls right after the final panels of JLA #74:
Got all that, folks? The Black Canary whose husband died in JLA #74 died herself, almost immediately after that story’s conclusion. The Black Canary who turned up a month later in JLA #75, on the other hand, was the first one’s daughter, who was given her mother’s memories (including the belief that her actual dad was instead her lover and husband — ewww, much?), and then apparently passed off by Superman to his fellow Justice Leaguers as her mom (which he somehow pulls off, even though this Dinah is twenty years younger than the one they already know, as well as being, y’know, a completely different woman) — an incredibly complicated ruse that the Man of Steel and the Thunderbolt implement because… because… well, because this ungainly, ramshackle, held-together-with-duct-tape “solution” to the Black Canary Problem simply won’t work if the characters involved begin to behave the least bit rationally.
Honestly, I’m willing to allow this may have been the very best that DC’s storytellers could come up with, once they’d written themselves into this particular corner — but it’s nevertheless one sad, miserable bastard of a retcon that we should all be grateful was mercifully let go into that good night circa 1986, via Crisis on Infinite Earths. (And this opinion is coming from one of those old-time fans who’s never been convinced that Crisis really needed to happen in the first place.**)
Of course, Crisis did nothing to resolve the larger problem presented by the Justice Society heroes being inextricably tied into World War II — if anything, it exacerbated it. Now, instead of being tucked away on an alternate Earth, the JSA was part of the actual history of the current generation of heroes (formerly the “Earth-One” contingent). This allowed for more interaction between the different generations of characters, and encouraged the notion of heroic legacies, handed down from generation to generation — from Jay-Flash, to Barry-Flash, to Wally-Flash, and so forth — but it also highlighted the ever widening gap of years between the first, Forties-native generation of heroes, and all those that followed. By this point in time, surely some of the original JSA members should be succumbing to old age (and without any “help” from Extant); even allowing for the “energy boost” a bunch of them got from Ian Karkull once upon a time, we shouldn’t expect that characters who met FDR on multiple occasions will go on forever (unless, of course, they were frozen in ice in 1945, and their “thawing out” date can be shifted forward in time indefinitely, as Marvel does with Captain America).
You’ll have noticed, I’m sure, that I’m writing about the Justice Society heroes as though they’re still around — and they haven’t been (at least not in their original incarnations), since 2011’s “New 52” reboot. However, it seems that they might be on their way back, per 2016’s Rebirth one-shot and related projects, such as the currently-appearing (as of this writing) Doomsday Clock miniseries. Personally, I’ll be happy to have the JSA back under any circumstances — but I’m kind of hoping that, if and when they do return, they’re no longer bound quite so tightly to a specific historical military conflict, but are able to continue on indefinitely without getting appreciably any older than they are “now” — just like the modern heroes do. Time will tell, I suppose.
In July of last year, I concluded my post on JLA #65, featuring the second half of 1968’s JLA-JSA team-up, with a tribute to writer Gardner Fox, whose final issue of Justice League of America it was. Fox had written every single JLA adventure since the team’s tryout appearances in Brave and the Bold; and, in previous decades, had written many of the original Justice Society adventures in All-Star Comics, as well. His departure from the title clearly marked the end of an era.
In the same spirit, I’d like to close this post by commemorating the departure of another longtime member of JLA‘s regular creative team, which coincidentally also came on the occasion of the wrap-up of another Justice League-Justice Society joint adventure. Inker Sid Greene had been on the book since JLA #46 (which was, in yet another coincidence, the first chapter of 1966’s JLA-JSA get-together). He’d remained as the title’s regular inker — first over Mike Sekowsky’s pencils, then Dick Dillin’s — for the following three years, in a run only interrupted by issues #62 and #63 (for which he was spelled by George Roussos). He wasn’t the only Justice League of America inker I’d ever known, but he was certainly the one I knew best; and even if his departure from the series wasn’t as consequential as that of Gardner Fox, it was still significant.
My younger self associated the “look” of Sid Greene’s inking not only with JLA, but with most of the other superhero titles in editor Julius Schwartz’s purview as well. He’d embellished some of my favorite issues of Green Lantern, Atom, Batman, and Flash, as well as a number of “Batman” and “Elongated Man” stories in Detective Comics. I’d also seen, and enjoyed, at least one of his rare (for this era) full art jobs, when he contributed both pencils and inks to Detective #361’s “E.M.” back-up story:
Actually, from the beginning of his career in comics in the 1940s up to around 1964, Greene had worked primarily as a penciller or full illustrator. In the first decade or so he appears to have worked for Marvel about as frequently as he did for DC; after 1955, however, his work appeared almost exclusively at DC, and mostly for Julius Schwartz on his science fiction anthology titles, Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures, including all seven installments of the former’s “Star Rovers” feature. Known for frequently drawing Schwartz into his stories as a character, Greene himself got into the act with Strange Adventures #140 (May, 1962), which also featured his renditions of Schwartz, Gardner Fox and DC production manager Ed Eisenberg. (In the top panel of the two shown below, seen L to R are: Fox, Eisenberg, Greene, and Schwartz.)
Beginning in 1963, Greene branched out from the sci-fi books into inking Gil Kane on The Atom, also for Schwartz; and when Schwartz turned over editorship of Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures to Jack Schiff, Greene left those books as well, henceforth spending most of his time inking superhero stories for his longtime editor. After leaving JLA with issue #74, his inks appeared in one last comic book of that genre, Atom and Hawkman #45. He then had work published in Our Army at War, as well as in a handful of DC mystery anthology titles, such as The Unexpected and The Witching Hour, up through early 1973 (though his regular monthly appearances in one DC title or another peter out around the beginning of 1970). His very last original published work — a fully pencilled and inked one-page filler for Weird War Tales (presumably a job that had been held in inventory for years) appeared in 1979.
The fact that Greene’s regular workload ended when it did suggests that he either retired (or at least semi-retired) in 1969 — or that he was let go, as were a number of other veteran DC artists around the same time, such as George Klein and Wayne Boring. Unfortunately, biographical information on the artist is hard to come by, and much of what is available online is contradictory and/or insufficiently supported by documentation.*** Virtually all sources, however, indicate that he passed away in the early Seventies, and that he may have been as young as fifty-four (although my own research, based largely on resources available through the fee-based service Ancestry.com, suggests that sixty-four is more likely). Thus, regardless of whether he retired, was fired, or found work outside the comic book field, Sid Greene sadly does not appear to have long survived the end of his career at DC circa 1969.
It’s probably a stretch to consider Sid Greene’s departure from Justice League of America a significant signpost of the transition from the Silver Age of Comics to the Bronze — at least, in any broad, objective sense. But from my own personal, subjective point of view, it definitely is such. With the next issue of JLA, Joe Giella took over inking Dick Dillin’s pencils; and though Giella, in his own way, typifies the Silver Age as much as does Greene, the look of Dillin’s pencils under Giella’s finishes was (and is), to my untrained eye, dramatically different from his immediate predecessor’s. Add to that the fact that Green Arrow’s new look made its JLA debut in the same issue — as well as my personal sense that the inkers that followed Joe Giella over Dick Dillin in JLA (e.g., Dick Giordano and Frank McLaughlin) were much more similar in style to Giella than they were to Greene — and it’s hard for me not to think of Justice League of America #75 as the series’ first Bronze Age issue.
But whether or not you agree with me about the particular historical significance of Sid Greene’s leaving JLA, I hope that you’ll agree with me that his overall artistic contribution to the Silver Age at DC Comics was considerable — and worth our having taken a moment or two to commemorate him, in this space.
*Technically, Charles McNider suffered from a condition that impaired his sight during the day, but allowed him to see perfectly in total darkness. Plus, he could see just fine in the day through special goggles of his own invention. So, calling him “blind” could be considered something of an overstatement.
**Based on my opinion — shared by virtually every other comic-book fan I’ve ever met or communicated with — that DC’s pre-Crisis multiple-Earths cosmology was both 1) fascinating and 2) completely comprehensible — an opinion that, in deeply ironic fashion, the publisher itself seems to have finally come around to sharing, considering that as of 2019 we have not only a DC Multiverse, but also a “Dark” Multiverse, and even a Metaverse.
On the other hand, my skepticism about Crisis shouldn’t be construed as implying that I’m also one of those old-time fans who believes that everything went to hell in 1986, and that DC hasn’t put out anything good since. Au contraire, mon frere; in my humble opinion, there’s actually a whole lot to love about the post-Crisis DCU — most especially the concept of multi-generational superheroic legacies, which practically came to define the DC brand in the couple of decades that followed CoIE. (That is to say, there’s a whole lot to love right up until September, 2011 — which is when everything really did go to hell.)
***For example, as of this writing, the Wikipedia article on Greene gives two mutually exclusive sets of birth and death dates for him.
OK, I wrote a book last time, so this time I’ll (try) to be brief. As a DC guy from Day One, I remember this issue and owned it for a long time. My main take-away was that Aquarius was the dumbest-looking bad guy I’d ever seen. Something about that pug nose and dopey grin just set me off. I hated it and was glad to see him oblitered by the GL’s in the Negative Matter dimension.
The thing that always struck me about the death of Larry Lance was that it stuck. To my knowledge (and you didn’t mention it), he was never brought back, resurrected or retconned. And while I did own this issue, apparently I didn’t pick up #75 with the convoluted Black Canary retcon. If Marv Wolfman got thanked for that piece of tripe, can you imagine what the other ideas looked like?
Thanks for the tribute to Sid Greene. You’re right, intentional or not, his leaving was the end of an era.
And finally, necessary or not, Crisis on Infinite Earths is still the first and BEST company-wide mega event either DC or Marvel has ever produced.
Thanks for another great post.
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100% agree. Also in my humble opinion COIE is The best point for a newbie that wants to really get in touch with DC Comics universe as it was in Pre-Crisis era, mostly. It is true DC’s bible and with characters that are actually written accurate to their own characters in previous comics. Even Golden Age/Original Superman’s past of a killer (although Earth-1 also killed some guys too, but more by proxy and/or as a last restort or simply clumsiness and lack or handsight of situation, OG Superman killed (bad) people for much less and back when he was truly invincible unless its some super duper explosion or sleep/paralysis gas or ray, which he will be immune to in 2 next issues anyways) which everyone at DC nowdays are shunned away , it got extremely ridiculous in Geoff John’s Infinite Crisis when he was lashing out at “imperfect” heroes of modern DC.
But I think original Secret Wars is also fun for just a giant brawler fun, even though it has its moments when Spider-Man can solo entire X-Men team but sucks against any of actual villain.
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Great post again, Alan–and I particular enjoyed your tribute to Sid Greene. I’m with you–after #74, it was always hard to enjoy Dillin anywhere near as much.
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As always: this was a fantastic, wonderfully detailed and engaging post. I will respond to just a few of the great points:
1) The rosy red glasses of “superheroes never killed back in ye good olde days” are indeed tempting to wear as you get older. It seems they largely gained popularity in the late 80s as a reaction against all the poorly thought out imitations of Moore and Miller’s recent works.
2) Yeah, that “solution” for the Black Canary “problem” seemed pretty bad and “skeevy” even back then!
3) and this ties into the above: I’m right with you on the COIE; it wasn’t necessary for the reasons stated, but it avoided nonsense like the Canary Solution, and led to a DCU that I greatly enjoyed for a long time.
Also: the issue you posted about sounds fantastic! And I, too am huge fan of the Staton-drawn Special!
Glad you enjoyed it, Max!
The second article I’ve read on your blog and enjoyed it too. I ceased collecting Comics in 1982 (so missed the ’86 Crisis). I didn’t return to Comics until 2016 (Rebirth), but have to admit I loved DC’s Silver Age best and still do. As for Sid Greene, you are spot on about him too. I didn’t realize at the time why the first Dillin JLA’s I purchased way back in ’68 didn’t appear that much different from all time favourite JLA artist Mike Sekowsky’s rendition, then I began to dislike JLA when Joe Giella took over from Sid Greene. Oh for the days of Curt Swan’s “Superman/Legion of Super Heroes”, Infantino’s Flash and Batman (in every other issue of Detective Comics) and Gil Kane’s Green Lantern !.
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Thanks, David. Do you mind if I ask, what was it about “Rebirth” that brought you back to comics after such a long time away? Just idle curiosity on my part.
I discovered, quite by accident, That DC released “Trade Paperbacks” (something I’d never heard of) in 2016 and started buying those that reprinted Silver Age material (saving wear and tear on my 50 year old originals). I knew DC was still around (due to the much maligned Snyder Films) so out of curiosity (and with a certain amount of shock at the price rise of a single issue difference with 1982 !), I started buying “Batman Rebirth” and “Justice League Rebirth” from an internet site (sadly the old fashioned Papershops with spinner racks had disappeared). I gave up on JLA around issue 28, but still purchase “Batman”, albeit in the Trade Paperback Collections of Rebirth issues as it’s cheaper. Although better paper and stunning artwork, I still prefer the old Sekowsky/Sachs stories in the “80 Page Giants” and the Sekowsky/Greene issues from 1966/67 !.
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David, sounds like it was pure serendipity, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 🙂 In any event, welcome back!
Loved Sid Greene’s inks on ANYTHING. Nice tribute. I agree on Crisis on Infinite Earths – for me it was the end of the Bronze Age and a major mistake. The Modern Age ushered in nihilism in comics and I started to lose interest. Things WERE simpler when the various incarnations were on different earths. Piling them all into one universe confused things. And then we have the multiple retcons of Hawkman, Power Girl, etc. Yuck. DC had too many reboots and I lost interest in the 1990s and by 2011 gave up only buying Batman ’66!
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Ellsworth, I probably found more to like in the post-Crisis era than you did, but I know where you’re coming from. And DC just about lost me for good in 2011 as well, though I’ve relented somewhat since then.
I can’t believe I never commented on this. As always, an excellent retrospective and analysis.
The artwork on this issue by Dick Dillin & Sid Greene, along with the uncredited colorist, really is astonishing. For example, that panel on page three of a glum-looking Aquarius cupping his chin in his hand really is expressive, and almost comical. It really invests this cosmic menace with very human qualities. And the sequence at the end in the anti-matter universe is really striking.
Perhaps it is the benefit of hindsight, but I can definitely come up with a *MUCH* simpler explanation for the Black Canary being so young than the nonsense that JLA eventually came up with. They could have simply said that, just as Aquarius’ mystical energies gave Dinah her super-powered canary cry, those energies also de-aged her a few decades.
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That explanation works so much better, Ben. Honestly, I still don’t know what Thomas and Conway were thinking…
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I like that suggestion as well. Frankly, I just pretend those two issues don’t exist, like much of Conway’s run.
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Would that Ben’s idea had occurred to Roy back then. It could have been somehow tied in with the Ian Karkull storyline. The identical daughter idea almost sounds like they came up with it to point to as an example of confusion caused by multiple earths.
I don’t see much similarity between Giella and Giordano, but I do like the Dillin/Greene combo much better than the Dillin/Giella pairing. I particularly thought they did a good job of drawing Dinah.
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